Tag Archives: Portland homeless

Criminalizing the homeless costs us all

By Paul Boden, Contributing Writer

The Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP) and the USA-Canada Alliance of Inhabitants (USACAI) are calling on our members and allies throughout the United States and Canada to join us on April 1 for a bi-national day of action against the ongoing criminalization of poor and homeless people in our communities. Stay tuned for information on Portland’s action led by Sisters Of The Road, Right 2 Survive, and Street Roots.

We are building a movement to reclaim our communities for all members, not just those who set the rents. In order to build this movement and assert our human rights, we must make clear the myriad ways in which our community members are treated as though they are less than human. We must connect the dots.

Over the past 30 years, neo-liberal policy-makers have substituted private gain for public good; they have abandoned economic and social policies that supported housing, education, healthcare, labor, and immigration programs. WRAP and USACAI are at work identifying and tracking such policy, legal, and funding trends in order to publicize their spread and their effects. This is not a matter of theoretical analysis, this is an investigation of the policies and tools by which more and more people have been made to suffer. Continue reading

Right 2 Dream Too: They’re doing the right thing, now let them succeed

SR editorial:

What happens when a group of 50 homeless people get together and create a safe place to call home? The verdict is still out.

In a time when Street Roots can’t buy a positive story about homeless and housing policy, and local and national leaders continue to communicate bad news on the budget front, Right 2 Dream Too is breaking the mold by providing a refuge for people on the streets.

We could talk about the state and federal governments’ lack of support for housing and human services. We could concentrate on the hypocricies of the city and other groups who stand on the sidelines, shoulders shrugged. We could call out any number of neighborhood and business groups who patronize Right 2 Dream Too as well intentioned, but fall back on the argument that it’s not the solution, and request that the group be removed from the neighborhood.  But none of this gets us anywhere, and has all been said before. Continue reading

Burnside group grows, gets a portable toilet donated

The group of people experiencing homelessness on NW 4th and Burnside continues to grow. Starting out at eight individuals with three tents, the group now stands at nearly 60 individuals with nearly 30 tents. In the past 24-hours a private citizen donated a portable toilet (seen below) and local carpenters volunteered throughout the day and night to help build slabs for tents to rest on.

Yesterday the group calling themselves, “Right to Dream Too,” shared with Street Roots blueprints for how they envision the space over the next year.

Photos and post by Israel Bayer.

Any given Sunday (Potluck In The Park)…

Potluck in the Park approaches two decades of service, overcoming challenges and serving more than ever before

By Morgan VanFleet, Nick Baty and Kevin Nickoloff, Contributing writers

The air around O’Bryant Square is buzzing with energy of motion. Part of the movement comes from the cold, biting wind pushing through the trees, a rare dry autumn Sunday. But the majority of the energy comes from the cacophony of 600 plus people gathered in anticipation for a hot meal, courtesy of Potluck in the Park.

Logistics Supervisor Julius Brown scans the crowd, anticipating the needs of other volunteers and keeping guests happy. Brown is a congenial man with a knack for well-timed humor and problem solving. Fellow volunteer Karen Hudnall, a cheerful, loquacious woman with a disarming manner, describes Brown as the Potluck team “quarterback”, the go-to guy for volunteers or guests who need direction. Spotting a young woman with a video camera, Brown, tall and authoritative, glides over and requests that she respect the guests at Potluck. Continue reading

The streets claim lives every year, so why aren’t we paying better attention?

By Amanda Waldroupe, staff Writer

“Frankly, they shock me.”

Those were the words City Commissioner Nick Fish used to describe the results of the Vulnerability Index survey when it was given to 646 homeless individuals over the course of three mornings in October 2008.

The survey revealed that 302 people, nearly half of all surveyed, were considered “medically vulnerable” because they had diseases increasing their likelihood of dying while homeless, such as heart disease, end-stage renal disease, and cancer. More than a third of those surveyed, 231 individuals, were considered “tri-morbid,” because they had co-occurring physical and mental illnesses as well as a substance abuse issues.

“We had a good sense that people who were homeless and living on the streets were more likely to be more ill. The proportion was higher than we had expected,” says Ryan Deibert, a homeless program coordinator at the Portland Housing Bureau.

Fish vowed change. Continue reading

The home team’s advantage: Joey Harrington focuses his gaze on Portland’s front lines

by Joanne Zuhl, Staff writer

Joey Harrington is a guy who happens to play football; not a football player. There’s a difference. Football doesn’t define him, he says, it was a career, it afforded him a nice living, but it is not who he is.

Who he is is much more than the son of University of Oregon football stars, where he himself had three years as the celebrated quarterback of the Ducks. He is far beyond the hype of his 2001 candidacy for the Heisman Trophy. And today he is so much more than the NFL could ever give, or take away.

Harrington is settling back home in Portland with his wife, Emily, and their new son Jack. It has always been home for him and his family throughout his career. Portland is the base for the Joey Harrington Foundation, established with his signing bonus with the Detroit Lions, with whom he played for four seasons. In recent years, however, his career was tethered to one struggling team after the next — to the Miami Dolphins, the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints.

But Harrington’s having a much bigger impact in Portland than he did throwing a ball in any of those others towns. The Joey Harrington Foundation supports numerous youth-focused groups in Portland, including the Shriners and the Boys and Girls Club, where he serves on the board of directors. He has joined the board of SMART (Start Making A Reader Today), and he’s working with Girls Inc. on their “Power of the Purse” campaign.

Harrington is not just the name behind the check. In his opinion, he was given a blessing with his career, despite its ups and downs, and he wants to give back. In addition to his other work, he both supports financially and volunteers at the Blanchet House, which provides meals for people experiencing homelessness, and on Jan 30, he did the Special Olympics’ Polar Plunge.

Joanne Zuhl: Did you actually do the plunge?

Joey Harrington: Oh God. Yeah, it was a lot of fun.

J.Z.: A lot of people would have cut the check and gone home.

J.H.: Hey — you jump in the water. If you’re going to do it, you got do it all the way. You know, to be in the position I’m in today, I’ve been supported by countless people. I’ve been supported by the community of the state of Oregon, by the city of Portland. These are people who have been wonderful to me. And when I’ve come back in the off-season in years past, I’ve had a small bit of time. I used to do a fundraiser concert for Shriners Hospital, (Harrington is an accomplished jazz pianist) but I wasn’t around enough to be involved like I wanted to give back, to say thank you.

J.Z.: And now?

J.H.: It’s great! It gives me the opportunity to completely jump into it. And while my NFL career didn’t necessarily turn out as storybook as my college career, I’m still able to help certain organizations in the city and the state, that other people may not be able to. It’s funny to me how people respond to professional athletes in general, but the reality is it opens doors. Football has never been a destination to me. Football has been a way to open a door to something else I wanted to do.

By using the contacts that I’ve made through playing football, I’m able to help out the people who have helped me get to this position.

J.Z.: You’re involved with and support several charitable endeavors here in Portland, including the Blanchet House, where I understand you’ve volunteered on several occasions. Some people write the check and that’s it. Was there an event or moment in your life that compelled you to get involved?

J.H.: We made a sizable contribution to the new building project simply because the Blanchet House has been something that’s been close to my family and Emily’s family. My grandfather was one of the members of the original group that started the Blanchet House. And Emily had volunteered for years before we met. She was the one who actually brought me down there to volunteer for the first time, maybe five years ago.

What I really liked about the Blanchet, is that there were no requirements. It wasn’t like you had to sit and listen to someone speak first, it was simply come in and eat. And whether you live on the streets and need it for every single meal, or whether you just need it because the money runs tight at the end of the month, it’s an open door. You asked if there was a moment. I don’t think that there was one moment, but it’s something that my mom and dad really emphasized when we were younger; that it doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor, a lawyer, a mailman, a plumber, or someone who is out of a job, or someone who is doing drugs on a street corner, everybody deserves respect. And so, having been raised with that as a model, it’s tough to see people turn their back. It’s tough to see people treat others like they’re not good enough, or their time is too valuable for them, or that they are somehow less. And that’s something that has always resonated with Emily and me. Continue reading

Our full potential lies beyond the bias — and ignorance

I only thought these people existed on television, in certain areas of the country, and, in the spirit of full disclosure, in parts of my family. Certainly, not in liberal-loving, alternative-transportation-worshipping, scarf-wearing Portland.

My ears perked up as a group near me in a downtown coffee shop started discussing how government leaders were asking churches to do more for the homeless. They were frustrated, and not because they felt like they were already doing enough, but because they believed that the government leaders probably didn’t even belong to a church. How dare they ask the church to help? And, they said, ultimately, isn’t it really the city’s job to take care of this anyway?

That wasn’t great, but that’s not so bad.  I know I fall in the trap of feeling like others should do more all the time. I tried to withhold judgment — rise above things, as it were.

Then I hear, “So, where do we stand on 66 and 67?” Grumbles all around. “Well, they just did that to show they are doing something without really doing anything.”  And, “I can’t believe they want to raise taxes at a time like this.”  And then this.  “Our church can’t afford to pay more; we’re losing people as it is.” That’s right. A non-profit church is somehow being forced to pay more because of 66 and 67. Who knew?

This is not good. Government should take care of the homeless problem but shouldn’t ask taxpayers to pay for the human services folks need to end and avoid homelessness to begin with. But, again, trying to stay above it all, if we are about embracing diversity, then embracing different points of view are part of that. Right?

Then, the group’s topic turned to the earthquake in Haiti. And, I didn’t know this, but apparently a sudden lateral or vertical movement of rock along a ruptured surface does not cause an earthquake. God does. God also caused Hurricane Katrina. (I had heard rumor of this before). And, you know what the proof is? Look at Mount St. Helens. All we got was a dusting up here.

Wow. My tolerance of this group just went down the toilet, and I began to think of the danger of this kind of thinking. Now, I know enough to know that most people don’t feel this way. But the truth is, many people do, and a lot more people hold biases that will continue to keep people from realizing their full potential. Let’s look at people who are involved with the criminal justice system.

It’s an issue for many people who are experiencing, and who have experienced, homelessness. From the person who has multiple violations due to the sheer risks associated with being on the streets to the person with untreated illnesses who gets caught up in the public safety and correctional systems because of criminal activity driven by addiction or unusual behavior that few understand and fewer know how to treat.

Every year, more than 650,000 people are released from state and federal prisons, and more than 7 million people exit local jails in the United States.

Many inmates experience chronic health and/or mental health problems that increase their likelihood of being homeless upon release from prison or jail. The 2005 Report of the Re-Entry Policy Council documents that:

•            More than one in three inmates reports a physical or mental disability;

•            The incidence of serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, is two to four times higher among prisoners than among the general population; and

•            Three out of four inmates have a chemical dependency problem.

A 2006 report from the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that approximately
42 percent of inmates in state prisons and nearly half of all inmates in local jails have both a mental health problem and a substance abuse disorder.

There are real solutions. Permanent housing linked to supportive services increase the likelihood of an ex-offender’s successful reintegration into the community. Supportive housing reduces criminal justice involvement for homeless people with severe mental illnesses, reducing jail incarceration rates up to 30 percent and reducing prison incarceration rates as much as 57 percent.

It’s really a no-brainer — housing and services help people who are ill and homeless avoid incarceration. It’s not easy work, but it doesn’t require an act of God. It’s more humane for people and it’s a much better use of precious public resources.

Prison and jail are among the most expensive settings in which to serve people who are homeless. One study of nine cities calculated the median daily costs for prison and jail at $59.43 and $70, respectively, compared with $30.48 per day for supportive housing.

To get to the solutions, we have to get beyond our preconceived notions of what someone who has criminal justice involvement is about, especially when they have the added pressures of mental illness and addictions. We have to understand that everyone deserves another chance to realize his or her potential. We have to open doors, provide care and allow people to grow beyond their pasts and transform to become accountable, responsible and participatory citizens in our community.

Oh, and vote yes on 66 and 67. Churches won’t pay more. I promise.

By Heather Lyons

Author’s disclaimer: The views represented in this column belong to me, Heather. They do not represent the views of any of my current or previous employers. Though, of course, they are greatly influenced by my experiences over the years, as should all opinions.